The government’s star witness in the sentencing hearing of Omar Khadr continued to talk for hours on the stand today, explaining his view of why he believes that the Canadian captured in 2002 at the age of 15 is “highly dangerous.”
But it turns out that much of the information Dr. Michael Welner relied upon, including the judgments that informed the bulk of his opinions about the future dangerousness of Omar Khadr, was based on the highly suspect opinions of a Danish psychologist, Nicolai Sennels, whose work Welner had barely read and to whom he spoke only once on the telephone. Although those opinions were easily retrievable online, Welner said he’d never come across them before.
But it’s not just the Danish psychologist’s opinions that cast doubt on the objectivity of the government’s expert. In fact, although not raised on cross-examination, Dr. Welner himself has stated opinions in an online magazine that reflect a deep-seated fear and mistrust of Muslims, calling into question the reliability of his assessment of Omar Khadr as a dangerous “radical Islamist.”
As one of Khadr’s lawyers, Major Matthew Schwartz, pointed out during cross-examination this morning, Sennels wrote an open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron in July in which he called the Koran “a criminal book that forces people to do criminal things,” and said that because Turkey is a mostly Muslim country, “25-30% of marriages in Turkey are intermarriages” and “the result of inbreeding.”
In another article, Sennels referred to treating Muslims as dealing with “someone from another planet” and said that the “Western world has to put a complete halt to Muslim immigration.”
In another, Sennels said that “we need to understand that it is not possible to integrate masses of Muslims into Western society.”
And in an interview with an online magazine, Sennels said: “We should in general make it so unpleasant and the economic disadvantage so big that the consequences of non-integration would motivate resident Muslims to emigrate.”
Confronted by these statements on cross-examination, Welner said he had not seen any of the articles referenced, although he earlier testified that in preparing to testify in Khadr’s case, he’d “reviewed everything he could get his hands on.”
After reading each of the articles during the court’s lunch break, he said that while he does not agree with all of Sennel’s statements, “I feel more confident that his conclusions are useful,” adding “he had an opportunity to sit and work with people he wanted to help and gained important understandings.”
According to his book, Among Criminal Muslims, Sennels worked in a prison in Copenhagen counseling young Muslim inmates.
But it’s not just Sennels’ statements that undermine both the basis of Welner’s conclusions as well as his judgment, not to mention the thoroughness of his research.
Welner himself has exhibited Islamophobia in his own writings. In Frontpage magazine, for example, he wrote that Israeli Jews living in Gaza “have provided a buffer zone for Israel, stemming the tide of Islamo-chaos,” yet are forsaken by more secure Israelis. He continued: “Like the happy family living next door to a drug addict, Israeli Gazans’ success shows the violent and destitute that other behavioral paths exist.”
Marcy Wheeler and Jeff Kaye have also pointed out Welner’s writings on Muslims’ propensity for anger. “In Muslim culture, it is expected that one should show anger and threatening behavior if one is criticized or teased,” wrote Welner, who does not claim to be an expert on Muslim culture. “If a Muslim does not react aggressively when criticized he is seen as weak, not worth trusting and he thus loses social status immediately.”
On the witness stand today, Welner admitted that he has never before testified on the influence of “radical Islam” on detainees, or on a range of other subjects he testified about, such as the effectiveness of deradicalization programs.
It remains to be seen how the jury in Omar Khadr’s sentencing hearing will weigh Welner’s testimony.